The Black Belt Business Podcast

Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go

Jan 24, 2024

Headline: Help them grow or watch them go

As a martial arts academy owner, it’s your job to not just hire and lead, but to empower your employees to step up and exemplify their own brand of leadership as well. 

This means that your job as a leader doesn’t stop at just helping them learn their job. Instead, offer training and opportunities that not only make your team better at their job (like sales or coaching), but also help them develop skills that will make them a more well rounded employee and individual beyond the work-place.

Like the practice of passing down praise so your coaches and front desk staff know they’re crushing it, it will happen naturally if you actively invest in your staff’s development. 

Think big. It’s great to be nice out of the goodness of your heart, but it’s even better when you’re nice with a purpose. As we’ve said before, it’s not about you. You don’t praise your staff so that they like you. Rather, you hope it helps them to build confidence so they can show up as the best versions of themselves any place they go.

When you invest in the growth of your employees, you’re signing up to play the long game. This doesn’t mean you have to keep everyone until they’ve all but set the place on fire – it means you get really intentional about how you spend your energy and set clear limitations to which degree you’ll help people grow before you watch them go.

Choose your finish

Just like with a submission on the mats, how you choose to play your hand in leadership is up to you. You’re given something to work with and a hand of opportunities. 

You get to decide what will yield the best results, long-term. Maybe you shouldn’t tear your partner’s shoulder out of their socket if you want to have a training partner tomorrow. Thinking ahead goes a long way.

One reason some academy owners don't value growing their employees is because people tend to leave to start their own schools or work for competitors. 

While this does happen, it is also something you can prevent with an intentional approach to your company culture. You can either help grow people into amazing employees and individuals that improve your academy and business by providing them opportunities to level up, or you can watch them leave for a different job where they will find those opportunities. 

Take the approach of assuming good intent: instead of assuming employees will leave you in the future, approach each employee like they could potentially be integral to your academy's success. Bring them up as such, and they will value all of these opportunities as much as you value them.

More than a job

With your front desk staff, your purpose is to grow and develop independent thinkers who can apply critical discernment to a variety of social situations (busy rushes, frenzied parents, nervous newbies, arrogant meat heads) while fluently describing your membership options to new prospects and closing a sale. 

That said, if this is someone’s first rodeo at a front desk of a martial arts academy, you may have to give them a small grace period to get into the flow and learn the ins and outs of the job. 

You’ll want to make sure they feel extremely comfortable with the administrative aspects first, but as they become more fluent in your academy’s systems and get to know your community, you will see them become empowered in a new way.

The mechanical aspects of the job can generally be learned pretty quickly (how to use your appointment booking software, how to check people into class and track their attendance, how to set up a lead’s calendar appointment and convert it to a membership when you’ve made the sale), but the deeper lessons you and the academy instill will happen over time. Just like showing up day after day to something as tough as Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai, the more they face their challenges the stronger they’ll show up to client-facing – and all other – adversity in the future.

Given the right guidance, even the most timid and soft-spoken step up and stop taking shit from anyone. (Which, believe it or not, is a very important trait to have at the front desk when managing the noise and energy level of a peak-hour martial arts academy where all of the managers, department heads and high-ranking students are on the mats coaching.)

If you keep your purpose front of mind, you won’t lean into your reactions when something pleases or disappoints you. It’s easy to praise someone who constantly closes every sale and makes everyone feel seen. It’s harder to quell your aggravation when you hear one of your front desk staff saying something thoughtless (or simply incorrect) over the phone to a potential lead.

When your focus becomes your staff’s growth, you can approach the way you interface with them from a wider lens. You can mention you heard them speaking to a lead, correct what they had wrong, and encourage them to answer the phone the next time it rings. This way, your First Impressions Specialist gets to address their error, receives the correction, and feels safe knowing they can mess up, re-adjust and have space to try again. 

Keep the same open feedback loop with your coaches too! If your Kickboxing coaches are doing a great job, tell them, and conspire how you can work together to make the striking program even better. On the other hand, if your Kids coaches are finding it hard to wrangle the little ones, ask them how you can better support their needs. 

You can’t micromanage the way a coach teaches a class, but you can give them the best tools you have, including the ability to think critically on the spot, how to de-escalate situations and skills to nuance their communication to the needs of each individual student.

Maybe you need to start implementing breathing exercises at the start of each Kids class, or create a list of Core Values for them to focus on together. At Easton, we have FRED – Focus, Respect, Energy, and Discipline. We found this to be the best way to instill a measure of discipline to our Kids classes that allowed them to focus on the martial arts. Perhaps adding something like this within your programs can help create a better framework for your coaches to thrive.

The more you pay attention to what your team needs from you, the better you can facilitate the sort of growth they need to continue to flourish at your academy. Just because things are going well doesn’t mean you stop looking for opportunities to improve – starting with how you approach your employees.

Make sure they know you appreciate their hard work and show them by creating opportunities for them to step up and take on leadership roles of their own. One of the things that frequently happens is people outgrow opportunities and leave to find new ones. If your employees can continue challenging themselves and uncovering new opportunities within your company, they won’t need to go elsewhere to find them.

As the owner, you can’t do it all – that’s why you bring others in. When you invest in your employees’ growth, it becomes very clear who begins to naturally stand out as a leader and who is willing to go the extra mile to grow with you. These are the people you need to do everything you can to keep around – including sometimes creating a position just to give them a reason to stay. 

When you build your coaches and staff into strong, capable leaders and continue creating opportunities for them to seize, you not only invite growth for them but ensure a strong foundation and create more space and time for yourself to address the academy’s bigger needs. 

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